I Hope They Will Know I Believed in Them


Lovett Weems notes the prevalence of a “we-they” attitude of clergy toward their members while lifting up examples of leaders who affirm laity.

One study that examined differences between growing churches and declining churches found that one of the leadership factors found in pastors of churches that lost members was a “negative view of the laity.” This point was on my mind during several recent experiences. While speaking at a pastors’ conference, I was struck throughout by a “we-they” attitude of clergy toward their churches and members. The only positive words seemed to be about laity who had joined under their leadership.

It was more than an isolated few. It was a recurrent theme in comments made in the sessions and informally. Near the end of the conference, one questioner said, “Are you not ignoring the presence of evil in churches?” I wondered at the time if the questioner understood the promise of grace.

Leadership Examples to Emulate

Although the pastors’ conference experience is discouraging, fortunately there are many examples of leaders who believe in those with whom they work and let their colleagues know it. Here are a few examples I have come across in recent times.

Student Pastor. A student pastor undergoing many family health and financial struggles was asked how things were going in the student’s church. The student lit up and responded, “Everything is going wonderfully there. The people are marvelous.”

Foundation Executive. At a reception for the retiring head of a very large foundation, a video captured excerpts from speeches made to the staff over the years. Some examples: “I am so proud to be associated with you.” “See what we have accomplished together.” “I love you very much.”

Company President. Speaking to the new president of the company, in front of all the employees, this leader reminded the successor, “They are not your people. You are their person.”

Pastor of Growing Congregation. “I am so proud to be your pastor.” “I am honored to be your pastor.” “What a privilege it is to be your pastor.”

College President. In a retirement interview, a very successful college president was asked to express a wish about what people would remember upon hearing this president’s name in years to come. “I hope they will know that I believed in them, and helped bring out the best qualities within each person,” the president replied.

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About Author

Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

Lovett H. Weems Jr. is senior consultant at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, distinguished professor of church leadership emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary, and author of several books on leadership.

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